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Dave Wood's Book Report, April 18, 2007

If you're fascinated by post-Edwardian society of the Roaring '20s, if you like Evelyn Waugh, if you enjoy the high jinks of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

If P.G. Wodehouse is your cup of tea laced with gin, of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey is your idea of a gentleman detective, then you'll probably like "The Bee's Kiss," by Barbara Cleverly (Delta, $13 paper).

Cleverly, a recipient of the Golden Dagger Award for fiction, sets her sights on Great Britain eight years after World War I. It was time for the Beautiful People to kick up their heels. But it was also a time of the General Strike occasioned by the upper class's refusal to pay the lower class its fair share. And it was a hotbed of political activity by the likes of fascist idealogue Sir Oswald Mosely.

Enter Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands who is assigned to investigate the murder of Dame Beatrice Jagow-Joliffe in her suite at the Ritz Hotel.

Anyone for a cucumber sandwich? And perhaps a spot of pink gin?

In my 20-odd years as book reviewer, I've witnessed lots of change. The decline of American influence on publishing, for one thing. Ever since German investors have taken over most of the big New York publishers, we've seen more and more attention paid to the bottom line, less on quality fiction. Massive bookstore chains have forced independent bookstores out of business and as a consequence have come to dominate what kind of books to publish.

It's not all bad, of course. The decline of New York publishing has led to lots of small publishers springing up around the country. The same decline has ironically increased the quality of so-called "vanity" published books. (If New York doesn't want my stuff, I'll publish it myself.)

One small but charming innovation in these years has been the explosion of various sub genres of the whodunit.

In the past few years, I've seen the Sam Spade type detective replaced by carpenters who also solve crimes, by chefs who put aside their spatulas to find a murderer. These clever little novels usually include ancillary advice. How to drive a nail. How to make a fluffy omelet.

When will this end, and where? God only knows, but I just received a paperback that will soon go to the woman who cleans our house.

It's called "Killed by Clutter" (Dell, $6.99 paper). Author Leslie Caine has created a character who leads a double life. One as an interior "designer" (who reorganizes messed up houses), the other as a canny solver of crimes. In this new outing, which follows Caine's earlier books "Death by Inferior Design" and "Manor of Death," interior designer Erin Gilbert is hired to clean up the mess that is the cottage of eccentric widow, Helen Walker, who believes someone's out to get her after two murders in the neighborhood.

Caine lards her sprightly narrative with household hints instead of chapter headings:

"Whether you're choosing a silverware pattern or paint for your living room, it's often best to make a swift decision, rather than to agonize over every possibility. After all, very few decisions that we make are permanent, and where would you rather be: Sitting on the fence or blissfully enjoying your surroundings?"


"It's possible to add little touches to personalize even a store-bought gift, by painting it the recipient's favorite color, for example, or making the card yourself."

I kept looking for a hint on polishing one's Maltese falcon, but couldn't find one.